Jon Carroll's column in today's San Francisco Chronicle is a lovely riff on baby naming inspired by a book called Hausa Sayings and Folklore, which Jon's wife, Tracy, is reading as research for a novel she's setting in northern Nigeria. The book, written by an English-speaking anthropologist in 1912, includes this fascinating tidbit (which, as Jon notes, may or may not be accurate "because it's so much fun to lie to anthropologists"): "Yayan wabi, that is, children born after the death in infancy of two or more brothers or sisters, are given special names which reveal this fact and are thought to protect their owners from a similar untimely fate. (The names) are chosen because of their association with Koranic or traditional stories. ... The masculine name tanko means the bearer of it was preceded by two or more girls; and similarly to a girl born after two or more boys the name kandi is given."
Note also how pallid and boring our naming customs are compared to those of the Hausa. Some of us can't even be said to have a custom at all; people just name kids after whatever is on their minds that day, or whatever sounds pretty, or whoever scored the touchdown that won the game. But names that describe the circumstance of the birth of the bearer would be pretty cool. It would be a nice way to start a conversation too.
"Hello, my name is Randy."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I had a brother who was in that same earthquake."
I know of at least one business that acquired its name through the same logic: the branding agency marchFIRST. Convenient that "march" is also an active verb; not so convenient that marchFIRST went down in flames in the dot-complosion.
Postscript: Jon told me in an email that in Ghana, babies are named for the day of the week on which they're born, "which is how we know Kofi Annan was born on a Friday."